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Curtis taking measured approach with Red Bulls’ game plan

Ali Curtis New York Red Bulls (New York Red Bulls)


If anything was made clear during Ali Curtis’ introductory meeting with the media, it is that he and the New York Red Bulls have plenty to work on and discuss in the coming days and weeks.

The Red Bulls publicly appointed Curtis as their new sporting director on Tuesday, giving the former forward and MLS executive his first job at a club. Curtis, 36, is replacing the departed and largely successful Andy Roxburgh, but has the difficult task of remodeling a Red Bulls team that lost its best player in Thierry Henry to retirement.

How Curtis tackles the challenge is still the unknown part. Yes, he has a philosophy and vision for the club, but there are still a lot of things to be sorted through before making significant moves.

“I have some thoughts as to where we can improve and build upon the team, but I first want to talk with (head coach Mike Petke), I want to talk with the rest of our staff, I want to talk with Bob Montgomery, who is our academy director,” said Curtis, who was most recently MLS’s senior director of player relations and competition. “I really want to get some information from all areas of the club before we start running in a number of different directions, but I do plan on building the team and do plan on adding some players in this team and we’re very excited about that.”

While there is a need to add players to a team that has also parted ways with defensive anchor Jamison Olave, one of the main things that needs to be resolved is what to do with Designated Player Tim Cahill. The veteran midfielder lost his regular place in New York’s starting lineup late in the 2014 season, and was forced into spot duty during a postseason run that ended in the Eastern Conference finals.

The 35-year-old Cahill has one year left on his deal, but has said publicly that he will be back if he so wishes. That combined with his frustrated actions during the final months of the 2014 campaign and the Red Bulls’ decision to leave him exposed in the MLS Expansion Draft have many believing that Cahill is on his way out.

Curtis, however, said that is not the case just yet and added that talks need to be held before a decision is made.

“Three things with Tim,” said Curtis. “No. 1, he’s under contract with MLS. No. 2, his domestic and international experience, he can be an asset on the field as well as in the locker room. No. 3 is probably most important. I need some time to sit down with Tim and get an understanding of who he is, what his vision is and how we’re going to go forward and I just haven’t had enough time to sit down with him yet.

“I will shortly.”

Curtis’ response to Cahill’s situation was a rare moment of providing specificity on Tuesday for the former JP Morgan Chase Private Bank analyst.

He dodged a question about whether or not it was a priority to replace Henry this winter with another big-name DP. He was noncommittal in providing a response about future plans regarding USL Pro affiliation or start-up team. He also refrained from specifically identifying which roster positions need an upgrade.

Curtis seemed, instead, more interested in answering questions about his vision and philosophy, talking about what he can bring to the table without getting into too many details.

“Everything I’ve been involved in, everything I’ve done over the last 10-12 years has prepared me for this role and prepared me for this moment,” said Curtis. “My experience as a player and the lens that I still have, my work at JP Morgan in terms of I was in charge with trying to find quantitative solutions for really both qualitative and quantitative questions, and then my work at the league office over the last seven years.

“I have spent a lot of time working with clubs on player transactions and working with the ins and outs of the MLS Competitions guidelines and the rules and working with the Players’ Union and USL Pro and really developing those relationships and building out a business plan. The last seven years I’ve been able to build out a pretty comprehensive business plan.”

Curtis will now need to take all those previous experiences and apply them to his first job within a club structure. As sporting director, he will still likely face tasks and situations that he is unfamiliar with, but he seems plenty eager to take them head-on.

“I knew years ago that I wanted to be at the club and I wanted to be prepared so that I would not only be successful, but I wanted the club to be the best,” said Curtis. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to interact with every club over the last seven years and I feel very prepared, very confident, very excited.

“I know it’s a challenge, but that’s what makes it fun.”


  1. Why Tim Ream?

    Tim Ream is a great pro, left footed CB, great organizer, plays well with the ball at his feet, he has excelled in MLS, he is a main stay at Bolton Wonderers FC and American. He could be the American face of the team that they sorely need for marketing to hold ground against the NYC FC juggernaut marketing machine.

    Also getting Mix, Swagudelo and one or more other American recruits would be great!

  2. I’m in favor if getting the best players regardless if they’re American or not. Regardless, Americans require a reallocation order so Red Bulls wont be able to sign Mixx, Ream and Agudelo. Maybe one of them.

  3. I’m a fire fan first and always but Petke is no doubt one of the best coaches in mls……red bull arena world class…..I watched the Henry exit interview and the players left leave a great base…….owners have been burned by Marquez an absolute waste of a uniform I bet they go with mid level dps and u watch they will contend… York fans just need to chill out

  4. Adam, golf clap to you sir. As for getting Tim Ream, why? Seems like a backwards move for player and club. Mix would be great but I am starting to find he and his situation beyond annoying. Red bull do need another CB, they need a left sided midfielder and a center mid and another striker. Will be interesting to see what they do, if it were me Alexander would be trade bait.

    • “Red Bull do need another CB.” —- Yes, they do. Tim Ream is a center back,knows the club and the league, he is American, in the national team pool. What is the downside? If he is paid the same or more money,…is there a difference playing in the English Championhsip vs. MLS? Bolton will not be in the Champions League any time soon or ever,….and I can’t imagine that a Champions League team is going to make a play for Tim or any other USMNT players right now.

      This is the point,….there has to be a shift in the paradigm. American players should be payed market value in MLS to improve the league and encourage other Americans to ply there trade in the US,…notwithstanding what JK thinks. Ream to Red Bull would not be backwards move for club or player,…that is just nonsense.

      • BrianK,

        Ream has apparently improved quite a lot as a player since moving to Bolton.

        Had he stayed in MLS do you think that would have happened?

      • He was very good when he was with Red Bulls. MLS is a good league. The English Championship is a good league,…and I am not surprised Tim improved as his time in the professional ranks passed. To be honest,….I think he would be the same player,….solid and improving.

      • More than a few posters on SBI seemed to rate Ream, when he was a Red Bull, the equivalent to what you scrape off your shoe if you are not paying attention when visiting a dog park.

        While there is no way to confirm this, I would guess the competitive level is overall higher in the Championship than in MLS.

        I would also guess that there is overall greater pressure to perform well and a much more cut throat cold blooded approach to getting playing time there.

        In English that means, I believe Ream would have to play his best more consistently for Bolton than he ever did for RBNY to get the kind of PT he has been getting.

        And that would, in my view make him a better, more consistent player than he was at RBNY.

  5. This guy has no experience and no plan, yet he has to replace Henry, Olave, probably Cahill, shore up a porous backline, and find some creativity in midfield. I don’t understand why this team can’t be run properly but it’s been clear for some time that it won’t be until Red Bull sells it. Soon hopefully.

    • Slowleftarm,

      First,….give the guy a chance. He just got the job.

      Second,…I’d rather the club go with an American GM/TD as opposed to another foreigner. It has worked out nicely with other clubs. Besides, the club has a solid foundation with Petke and a nice nucleons of players.

      Third,…this isn’t that hard. 1) Drop Cahill; 2) Go out and get Tim Ream from Bolton,…pay a transfer fee and sign him to DP money; 3) Sign Mix Diskerud as the #10; 4) pick up Juan Agudelo off whatever scrap heap he is on right now; 5) see if Philly is willing to deal Andrew Wenger.

      Merry Christmas!

      • Easier said than done,…right? Cahill is easy. Ream,…they need to show some nerve,…plunking down some real dollars on a player who is not a “name” is a bit of a gamble,…but you get the sense that Tim is a steady pro who has the respect of the fans and is an American player who respects the league.

        Diskerud (and his dad) has a less than healthy history with MLS on the contract front,…but it is time for him to move on from the Scandanavian backwater and show his skills at home. Is he Bennie Faulhaber+? I think so.

        Agudelo,…well who knows what’s going on there. The kid is still young, seems unsettled and needs to come home and get on track. The focus next year will be on BWP,…so Juan wouldn’t feel any pressure.

        Andrew Wenger,…he is versatile. He tooled on Yedlin in the US Open Cup and he is American. I say take a chance on him becoming another Eric Alexander for the Red Bulls.

        The common denominator is that these are all American players,…two in there prime (Ream and Mix) and two with a possible upside (Agudelo and Wenger).

        Put that all together,…and you have a core of American players (Robles, Ream, Alexander, McCarty, Diskerud, Agudelo and Wenger) who represent the spine of the team and can support BWP and Sam.

        All I want for Christmas is,……

      • Well, the Wenger part is probably easiest. Just give us a keeper. Soon we’ll have 18 of goalies and nobody will score! Us or them…God I hate Nick the Sak.

      • Kevino,

        If you laugh out loud,…and there is no one to hear it,….do you make a sound? 😉

        Two points on Tim Ream….

        1. When he was with Red Bulls, Tim Ream was outstanding. Word out of Bolton is that he has become a mainstay in there squad. IMHO,…he should have factored into the USMNT picture more,…the irony being that he is our best center back with the ball at his feet.

        2. The reality is that he is making DP money with Bolton! MLS salaries are so far below market that Tim Bolton salary IS designated player money.

        So laugh your ass off. Myself and many other Red Bull fans would have Tim back in a heartbeat!

      • ” championship level”

        What makes you think Red Bull are better than Championship level?

        Ream has 11 caps , 4 since 2011. And he barely played in those 4 games.

        Ream has not played enough minutes yet for the the USMNT to say that his “sucked mightily” play means anything.

    • Slow, I really don’t understand how you can say that Red Bull isn’t running the team “properly,” unless you are more concerned with front office perceptions rather than on-field product. This team has made the playoffs consistently, won a Supporter’s Shield last year, were a goal away from a second MLS Cup final this year, and play in the best SSS in the league. They hired a fan favorite as the manager, have recently done more to embrace their Metro past, and rewarded their best goal scorer with a new contract. And Red Bull has spent hundreds of millions of dollars of their own corporate money to accomplish that after buying a team playing to a couple thousands folks and no atmosphere in an empty Giants Stadium. Sure, you can pick and this or that — that’s what sports fans do. But your opinion about Red Bull as owners strikes me as over the top critical for purpose of being over the top. They have been tremendous owners overall, for the league and the fans, and have vastly improved the professional soccer experience in NY/NJ. Have some perspective this holiday season.

      • That’s your perspective, Adam, but mine is somewhat different. Firstly, NYRB management gets very little credit for hiring Petke as he was nothing more than a backup move in case they missed out on all other possible targets and had to hire someone at the last second before the season started (which they did).

        Yes, they have enjoyed a run of relative success the last few years, but instead of making a true run at a championship by reinforcing the squad with a 3rd DP, they held back and pretty much ensured that the team would have little chance of winning a championship before the end of Henry’s tenure. These last 2 years were the chance for the team to really put everything into it to make a last ditch run with Titi. They could have rebuilt afterwards, but instead they tightened the purse strings and let the window pass. A special player like Titi only comes along once a generation and I feel like we let that chance slip away instead of truly going all out It’s sad.

        RB put a ton of resources into the team in the first few years, no question, but the last two, they seem disinterested and reluctant to do anything costly. As RB Leipzig marches up the levels of the Bundesliga and demands more and more resources, it seems that NYRB is getting less attention and less resources. We have a second citizen situation in NYCFC and seem to be developing another one here with NYRB. That’s not to discount the good they’ve done over the years, but if the recent signs foretell future actions, we will see NYRB act and spend like a small time or middle rung club rather than the big club that we would expect to see in the NY area.

        While Seattle goes out and signs the best GM in MLS, a man with a vastly proven record of success in the position, NYRB signs Curtis, a man with exactly zero experience in anything remotely resembling the position. Curtis may be a super bright guy who blew everyone away in the interview process, but that doesn’t change the fact that big clubs typically hire proven quantities for Sporting Director positions, not unproven nobodies. I hope for the best but once again, NYRB is trying to save money by going after an inexperienced, unproven guy instead of trying to do the best thing for the club. It’s a small club mentality in a big market by a team that used to be willing to spend like a big club, and it looks like a pattern that NYRB fans should get used to for the near future anyway. That’s my perspective.

      • “Firstly, NYRB management gets very little credit for hiring Petke as he was nothing more than a backup move in case they missed out on all other possible targets and had to hire someone at the last second before the season started (which they did).”

        Of course they deserve credit. Lucky hires happen all the time in sports and Red Bull deserve credit for considering Petke at all in the first place. They did not have to hire him.

        Curtis may turn out to be a disaster but you don’t have any way to know that right now.

        A big salary and reputation means the guy did it the last job.
        It guarantees you nothing and history is full of examples of second or third choices working out.

        The Baltimore Ravens hired John Harbaugh, who few people had ever heard of, only after Jason Garrett did an about face after being offered job and then deciding to remain an assistant at Dallas to eventually inherit that job. You can see how that coaching hire worked out.

      • Few people had ever heard of John Harbaugh??? What are you talking about? Everyone who knew anything about football knew Harbaugh.

        You need to stop saying, “there’s no guarantee…”. Duh. For the 88th time, GW, no one said there was a guarantee of anything. There’s NEVER a guarantee of ANYTHING. We’re talking experience, good hiring practices, and percentages. If you are telling me that Curtis, who has zero experience in any role remotely similar to Sporting Directorhas the same chance at being successful as Lagerwey who has had years of success in that role with less resources than he would have at NYRB, then you can’t be reasoned with.

      • “We’re talking experience, good hiring practices, and percentages. If you are telling me that Curtis, who has zero experience in any role remotely similar to Sporting Directorhas the same chance at being successful as Lagerwey who has had years of success in that role with less resources than he would have at NYRB, then you can’t be reasoned with.”

        I’m not saying that.

        Conventional wisdom would say your approach is better but conventional wisdom is not always right.

        I don’t know a thing about Davis but I do know that you have not yet given him a chance to prove you right or wrong.

        You missed the point about Harbaugh, which was, the Ravens were wrong about him. He was a better fit for the job than Garrett but they hired Garrett for the job anyway.

        It took Garrett himself to save the Ravens from their own mistake.

        Of course there is no guarantee Garrett would not have led Baltimore to a Super Bowl win.

      • 1. Petke may not have been a first choice, but he was a choice and they chose him and stuck with him. They deserve credit for that, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t always love Petke’s formation choices.
        2. The last two years they spent 8 million plus per year on DPs, and had to get rid of players because they were hitting up against the cap, so I don’t see how you can question their recent financial commitment. Noticeable improvements in the Arena also.
        3. The elusive 3rd DP. Let’s assume they had unlimited resources and wouldn’t have blown the salary cap by signing another costly player (which they would have, a fact that really ends this criticism in its tracks). Who could they have reasonably had a chance to sign that they didn’t, and how would that player have fit in? DP signings are still a bit hit or miss, even for presumably “high level” players (ask Cahill if he liked how his year went–and he was a beast for Red Bulls last year). Again, this team won a Shield and was a goal away from MLS Cup without spending millions more — hardly results that quality as “little chance of winning a championship.” They certainly created more than enough chances to win.
        4. The jury hasn’t even been selected in the Curtis case its so early, but high-profile management doesn’t work out a lot either (Toronto, anyone?). Until he has a record, it seems unfair to criticize his record. And the whole “Euro outsider” thing won’t apply.
        Most criticisms of Red Bull seems to presume something about their state of mind that conflicts with their actions and on field product. If they turn into a losing team and management doesn’t react, then fine. But its been exactly the opposite–I’ve seen an organization trying its hardest to win under the constraints of the system.

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